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Robin Hood (2010)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Broken Arrow"
2 stars

While appearing on David Letterman a couple of weeks ago to promote his latest film, “Robin Hood,” Russell Crowe claimed that there had been at least 53 different film versions of the exploits of the legendary hero produced over the years, that not a single one of them had been any good and that this new version would present audiences with an audacious take on the material that would be unlike any that they had ever experienced before. As sheer laziness prevents me from doing the necessary research to corroborate the first claim, I will take Crowe’s word on the number of variations that have been produced. However, his claim that none of them have ever been any good is one that even the most casual moviegoer is likely to find preposterous--the quintessential version, the 1938 Errol Flynn epic “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is regularly cited as one of the greatest action films of all time, there have been excellent takes on the tale featuring actors ranging from Sean Connery (the lovely and understated “Robin & Marian”) to Daffy Duck (“Robin Hood Daffy”) and even the much-maligned Kevin Costner epic “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” contained one of the great modern movie villains in Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham. As for his final claim, it is true that this new version of “Robin Hood” does offer viewers a version of the story that is wildly different from what they may be expecting, it is one that few will be willing to accept. In one of the most baffling artistic choices to come along in a while, Crowe and co-conspirator Ridley Scott have decided to take a property famous for being cheerful, exciting and high-spirited and have transformed it into a grim, violent and boring slog through the middle ages in the company of a character who looks as though he would rather be burned at the stake than become embroiled in anything that might vaguely fall under the definition of derring-do.

The film opens in 1199 as our hero, Robin Longstride (Crowe), is serving as an archer in the long, expensive and generally unsuccessful crusade of King Richard the Lionhearted (Danny Huston). Although a loyal Briton, Robin has grown increasing disenchanted with what he believes to be a futile campaign (even going so far as to deliver a long speech saying as much to King Richard himself) and when an attack on a French castle leads to the king’s death on the battlefield, he and a couple of his fellow soldiers--Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle)--decide to flee the battlefield and make their way back to England before news of the tragedy becomes widespread. While making their way to the coast, they stumble upon the ambushed remains of the party charged with returning the crown to England and reporting the king’s death to his people. After fighting off the attackers, Robin decides that he and his men will assume the identities of the slain knights, take their places on a ship waiting to take them back to England, return the crown themselves and slip away before anyone realizes that they aren’t who they claim to be.

Additionally, Robin also makes a deathbed promise to one of the knights, Sir Robert of Loxley, to return his sword to his estranged father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) as well and when he arrives in the town of Nottingham to fulfill this pledge, Walter asks him to stay on for a while with him and Robert’s widow, the spitfire Marian (Cate Blanchett) under the ruse of being Robert himself to protect their lands from being seized by the ruthless new leader Prince John (Oscar Isaac) as a way of replenishing the loyal coffers. This idea, by the way, was brought to Prince John by his loyal adviser, Godfrey (Mark Strong), but the randy royal has his head too far up his own hinder--not to mention that of his French mistress--to realize that Godfrey is a treacherous type who is actually working for the French and was the leader of the gang that ambushed the king’s party, not realizing that he was already dead. Godfrey’s plan, once Prince John is put in charge, is to encourage him to tax his people so heavily that they will finally begin to revolt and in the midst of the ensuing civil war, the French will arrive and quickly seize control of the now-divided country. Of course, it takes only one noble man to rise up and unite the people as one to fight off the French and save their country and Robin, inspired by some long-forgotten memories of his own father, a warrior-stonemason who used to inspire the locals back in the day, some sly politicking with a local chancellor (William Hurt) and the encouragements of Walter and Marian, rises from his self-serving former nature and--Spoiler Alert!--becomes just that man.

As those of you who follow the behind-the-scenes Hollywood gossip know, this particular version of “Robin Hood” went through a lot of changes on its way to the big screen. Originally, it was designed as a truly revisionist take on the story in which a newly-sympathetic Sheriff of Nottingham would be the central character. That version was eventually dropped (which might explain why the character is barely in this one) and I understand that another version was proposed that would have seen Crowe playing both Robin Hood and the sheriff. That too was scrapped in favor of a take that clearly wants to do for Robin Hood what “Batman Begins” did for Batman--take a well-known property that has sort of devolved into campiness over the years and reboot it in a way that eschews the silliness for a darker and more serious-minded approach that favors realism (or at least as much realism as possible under the circumstances) over flights of fancy. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea per se but the problem here is that while “Batman Begins” took that notion and transformed it into a fully fleshed-out narrative that completely justified employing such a radical approach while still remaining true to the original source material, “Robin Hood” never figures out a way to take its radical approach and turn it into a compelling story--all the creative decisions seem to have been based on whether they were different from previous Robin Hood films instead of whether they made for a compelling story. Instead of giving viewers the stirring story of the rise of a hero, the screenplay instead gives us over two hours of laboriously delivered backstory--the verbal battles outnumber the physical ones by a large margin this time around--to a story that only begins to kick in just as the end credits begin to roll. Instead of giving us intriguing new versions of familiar characters, we largely get uninteresting ciphers that mope around as though they were afraid of being taxed if they so much as smiled or demonstrate any sense of personality--trust me, there is a reason why Robin and his cohorts are never referred to here as merry men. Instead of thrilling battle scenes filled with sensational stunts and edge-of-your-seat excitement, it gives us grim and unending scenes of random people being clunked on the head with swords or pierced with arrows put together in a wildly over-edited manner so as to protect the all-important PG-13 rating and when it does finally go for an deliberately over-the-top moment towards the very end, the shift in tone is so jarring that it feels more confusing than cathartic. Add on a somnambulistic pace to the proceedings and you have a film that is so unrelievedly slow and solemn throughout that it feels more like an exceptionally rigid museum tour than the full-blooded adventure that it should be. (At times, it feels as if it were being made for people who came away from the “Star Wars” prequels wishing that there had been more tariff talk.)

The lack of high spirits in “Robin Hood” extends to the cast as well--Scott has attracted a number of incredibly talented actors to this project but with only a couple of exceptions, none of them are really able to make anything of it either. Russell Crowe, for example, might have made for an amazing Robin Hood a decade or so ago when he was still willing to cut loose with his performances but he never seems to be having any fun with the part and the glum attitude that he brings to the character instead winds up sucking the life out of everything around him--perhaps the Director‘s Cut will include a scene revealing him to be a replicant. (There is also the inescapable fact that, to be brutally frank, that he is a little too old for the part, especially since the entire thing is supposed to take place before all the better-known stuff). Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, tries to bring a little life to the proceedings as Maid Marian but is hampered by a revision of the character that is meant to be feminist, I suppose, but which has been done in such a poorly-drawn manner that it comes across as even more insulting than if it had just been left as is. As for the other actors, Mark Strong turns in the exact same performance that he did as the bad guy in the likes of “Sherlock Holmes,” “Kick-Ass” and “The Young Victoria” and once again inspires the question as to why such a colorless individual has suddenly become the bad guy du jour, Oscar Isaac tries to recreate the spirit of Joaquin Phoenix’s perverse prince from “Gladiator” but does so in a way that will remind viewers more of Russell Brand than anyone else (especially if they get the “Get Him to the Greek” trailer before their screening) and William Hurt just looks uncomfortable standing around in unyielding outfits while delivering equally unyielding dialogue. The only actor who appears to be having any fun at all--hell, the only person connected with the film who appears to be having any fun--is Max von Sydow as Sir Walter. Yes, his performance is a chunk of overly ripe cheese from start to finish but it is an undeniably entertaining turn that pumps life into the film whenever he appears and when he finally disappears from the proceedings, he takes the last bit of wind from its sails with him.

“Robin Hood” was clearly a complicated and expensive film made by people whose films are generally smart and sound entertainments but the end result is such a complete artistic non-entity that by the time it finally comes to an end, most people will wonder why they even bothered to make it in the first place. At best, I suppose it could be regarded as a noble failure because it does have a certain ambition to it that cannot be denied. Unfortunately, the key word in that phrase in this regard is “failure” and not noble because when all is said and done and “Robin Hood” is ranked among all the other screen versions that have been made over the years, I suspect that it is going to wind up a couple of notches below “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19508&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/13/10 09:48:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2010 Festival de Cannes series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell decent Crowe makes a good robin hood though 3 stars
12/15/10 mr.mike Crowe is more Man With No Name than Robin Hood. 3 stars
11/23/10 millersxing Ridley in vintage form; don't let non-traditional themes, jokes, and gender roles throw you 4 stars
9/22/10 Total Crap Very boring. Just one big set-up for a sequel that probably won't even be made. 2 stars
6/16/10 Dr.Lao If you know nothing about history and nothing about Robin Hood, you might like this film 1 stars
5/30/10 gc One of those movies that you wouldn't recommend but not neccessarily a bad movie either 3 stars
5/30/10 action movie fan disappointing, could have been much better-crowe was so wooden 2 stars
5/21/10 Bastounet Good movie, really entertaining with good actors and a great scenatio. I recommend it 4 stars
5/20/10 ron scott always delivers 5 stars
5/17/10 Tagla Telli Never seen a movie so aimed at a sequel, ever! 2 stars
5/15/10 Thedanz Could not wait for this movie to end. Too long, too boring. 2 stars
5/14/10 Darkstar What an awful goddamn bore of a film. Not the robin hood story you are expecting. Skip it. 1 stars
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  14-May-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Sep-2010


  DVD: 21-Sep-2010

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